Nicaragua, León – Colonial-style Town
Finally, we find ourselves in Nicaragua and curious about it. It is the largest country in Central America with a very diverse landscape. Nicaragua is known as the "Land of Lakes and Volcanoes" and is primarily divided into three areas: the Northeast Mountains, the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Coast.
Our first stop in Nicaragua is the city of Leon, also known as the university city. We come here in the dark, but there is peace and there is nothing to worry about. The city of León was founded in 1524 at the foot of Momotombo volcano and until 1824 it was the capital of Nicaragua. After the earthquake and eruption of the volcano in 1610 it was moved alongside the indigenous people of Sutiava. The ruins of the old town are located about 30 km from the current city of León, called León Viejo and have become a tourist attraction.
The city still retains colonial style in its streets and buildings, such as the cathedral, which is considered the largest in Central America. It was built between 1747 and 1860 and renovated in 1992. Its atrium is decorated with impressive lions, also located around the fountain in the central square. Inside the cathedral are baroque decorations and valuable oil paintings and frescoes as well as the tomb of poet Rubén Daría..
Other important buildings include the Church of San Juan de Bautista de Sutiava from 1710, which is the oldest intact church in the city. Furthermore, the yellow church from 1786 with a richly decorated facade and Iglesia de El Calvario.
In addition to the sights around the city you can experience other adventures, whether to climb one of the surrounding volcanoes, such as Cerro Negro, Momotombo and San Cristobo, or you can take a trip and swim in the Pacific Ocean. So for one afternoon we set off to Las Peñitas beach and it was worth it. It was just bigger waves, so it was a little adrenaline. A small disadvantage of this beach is that there is not much to hide in the shade.
Before we visit Granada, we stay overnight at Jinotepe, where we got a place to sleep through Couchsurfing. The city of Jinotepe itself is nothing special, but we were surprised at how often there is free wifi in almost every main square. So we spend the night in a small farm where avocados, papaya and other tropical fruits are grown. It is a time-out place, where only a few monkeys jump in the trees and hummingbirds fly around us.
GPS: 42°35'51.3"N 5°33'58.3"W
Text and photos: Tomáš Novák
From Panama, we head northwards to neighboring country of Costa Rica. First we choose a flight to the town of David, which is relatively close to the Costa Rica border, and the interstate flights are very convenient. From there we take the bus to the border, the journey with the locals is really cheerful, but we are well on the way - the small port town of Golfito. Just be careful that the customs officers do not forget to stamp your passport, which is a little messy. Otherwise, you will cause many problems. On the border there is a duty-free zone, many locals come here for shopping and there is really a great bustle, at the same time there is a lot of restaurants and various kiosks where you can refresh yourself.
Our next stop on the road was the island of Ometepe. When we read that it is the largest volcanic lake in the world and is made up of two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, the choice was clear.
Granada, popularly called "La Gran Sultana", is the oldest city of Nicaragua with well-preserved colonial architecture and also one of the first cities on the continent. It is the capital of the Department of Granada and one of the most important in the country.
We reach the volcano by bus, which stops in front of the National Theater in San José and goes directly to the crater parking lot. The road is quite tiring and slow, a short distance from the top will be delayed by a column of cars in front of the ticket offices (like every national park, this one is also charged).
We move from the wild Tortuguera to the central part of Costa Rica, where we plan to spend the last few days of our trip. The destination is the capital of San José, where we also want to make several trips to the surroundings. We stay in the great Costa Rica Backpackers, a hostel with amazing facilities including a swimming pool, bar, kitchenette or restaurant. They also offer an exchange of money for a very pleasant course and many optional trips.
Today a great journey is upon us for we leave Liberia and head to the east coast of Costa Rica, which is washed by the Caribbean Sea. We go to Tortuguero National Park (Parque nacional Tortuguero), located in the province of Limón. The name Tortuguero comes from the Spanish word tortuga - tortoise. The park covers an area of 312 km² and also has a small village. You can only get here by boat or plane.
We still dwell in the north in the town Liberia, from which we had the opportunity to go on a day trip yesterday and experience how beautiful neighboring Nicaragua is. We have a lot places to cross, so today we finally intend to go on a proper tourist trip.
After visiting the picturesque Montezuma, we move to the north for the last time. The destination is the city of Liberia, but it will only be our starting point for the next two trips. The first is a visit to Costa Rica's northern neighbor, Nicaragua. You can go on your own or with an organized tour. However, we recommend the latter option, as crossing the border is not easy. The guides already know how to walk right and save you a few hours of waiting.
After visiting Quepos and the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park, we set out on another journey through beautiful Costa Rica. Along the Pacific coast we take a local bus to Puntaneras, located on a small promontory in the Gulf of Nicoya and is the capital of the province of the same name.
After visiting the exotic Puerto Jimenez and the surf paradise of Matapala, we take a bus along the Pacific coast to the north. Our next stop is Quepos and we are still in the province of Puntaneras. Quepos is about 60 kilometers from the capital of Costa Rica - San José - and is a kind of gateway to the popular tourist park Manuel Antonio.
Approximately thirty minutes of drive from the town of Golfito to the small port of Puerto Jiménez, a small town in the province of Puntaneras on the Osa Peninsula. It is probably the cheapest and fastest way (about half to three quarters of an hour) to get to this southern tip of Costa Rica. There is also a regular flight here because there is a small airport in Puerto Jiménez. However, it only holds about 4 passengers, and the flight price is countless higher than for cruises. At the same time, if you are lucky, dolphins will join you on a short journey.
San Juan del Sur (formerly a fishing village) has become one of the most visited destinations in Nicaragua in recent years. It is full of surfing, beach and nightlife lovers. It is easily accessible and presents itself as a picturesque, multicultural and vibrant young city.
We leave San Salvador around 9 am by bus to Usulután and head for Alegría. Situated at an altitude of over 1240 meters above sea level, this small town with 15,000 inhabitants is surrounded by coffee plantations, which are the main source of income. Until 1891, the city was called Tecapa, which in Nahuati meant "lagoon" or "rocky river". Then the city was renamed after a former Catholic bishop who worked on the development of the village.
Already in Guatemala we were deciding whether to go to El Salvador or Honduras. Not one country is one of the safe ones, so we finally decided for El Salvador. The truth is that most murders and assaults take place among local gangs and some basic safety rules for tourists must be followed everywhere. So we are not afraid to go!